The bad Angel brothers A novel

Paul Theroux

Book - 2022

"Cal has always lived in the shadow of his brother, Frank, a complicated narcissist who was doted upon by their mother and beloved by the girls in their hometown-including Cal's own girlfriends. In an attempt to escape Frank's insidious presence, Cal pursues a different kind of freedom in the world's wild spaces, prospecting for gold and precious minerals everywhere from the heat of the desert at the Mexican border to the Alaskan chill to the suffocating African mines, where he will meet the love of his life, Vida. Soon he is dripping in wealth, his pockets full of gold nuggets and emeralds, but the money means far less to him than his independence. To Frank, however, it's everything. As Cal's success grows, so... too does Frank's influence in his affairs, the emotional vacuum he creates at the center of his little brother's life. And, ultimately, when Frank decides to commit the ultimate betrayal...Cal is left with only one, final solution" --

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New York : Mariner Books [2022]
Main Author
Paul Theroux (author)
First edition
Physical Description
342 pages ; 24 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

In this deeply unsettling tale of the sibling rivalry from hell, Theroux gives us the Belanger brothers: personal-injury lawyer Frank, beloved by nearly everyone in the small New England town of Littleford, and younger brother Cal, the bad angel in the eyes of his mother, who travels the world as a geologist, searching for precious metals but really trying to escape his bullying brother. Inevitably, Cal can run but he can't hide, and after numerous personal and financial downturns (all orchestrated by Frank), he returns to Littleford, opening his veins to his brother one last time. Or maybe not. After Frank has divested Cal of everything he values, Cal decides to strike back--by killing Frank. "In the push and pull of fraternal combat," Cal muses, there is "only the corrosive stink of distrust." That stink extends to how we read Cal. Is he an unreliable narrator, even if he's telling some version of the truth? Long known for creating complex, deeply troubled characters, Theroux strikes again here. If we can't quite warm up to the bad-angel brothers, we also can't look away from their head-on collision.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Theroux (The Mosquito Coast) cranks the nastiness to 11 in this powerful tale of a decades-long sibling rivalry. The story is narrated by Cal Belanger, 56, a globe-trotting geologist with a successful prospecting business. Cal loathes Frank, who stayed in their hometown of Littleford, Mass., to build an injury law practice. Over the course of the narrative, Cal lists the many betrayals that have soured his relationship with his "local hero" brother, including Frank's habit of recounting Cal's personal experiences as his own and his resistance to repaying loans Cal made to him. Frank, however, is revered as a saint by his clients, owing to the "whiplash windfalls" he wins them. After Frank plays a role in alienating Cal's wife and son from him in an emasculating divorce suit, Cal plots grim revenge. Is Frank truly the "devil" that Cal makes him out to be? Is Cal, in his obsessive complaints that contradict Frank's appraisal by others, an extraordinarily unreliable narrator? Theroux plays skillfully on reader sympathies until the bitter end, showing how a man's beliefs can make him turn to violence. The result is searing and memorable. (Sept.)

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

A festering sibling rivalry turns toxic. Brothers Frank and Cal Belanger are as mismatched as the halves of Frank's visage that give him "the contradictory face you see in some Greek masks." A lawyer in their hometown of Littleford, Massachusetts, Frank has accumulated wealth and power through his undeniable skill at manipulating people, while his adventurous younger brother, a geologist, has roamed the world mining precious gems. Now in their 50s, the brothers' longtime rivalry boils over into escalating, if asymmetrical, psychological warfare when Cal returns from one of his frequent lengthy international sojourns for an extended stay in Littleford with his wife, a crusader against child labor, and son. Whether he's simply gaslighting or unleashing every weapon in his legal arsenal, Frank marshals a set of emotional and professional tools honed over a lifetime to destroy the successful career and family life Cal has built. Cal, who narrates the novel, describes his mounting sense of helplessness as Frank turns his strengths into weaknesses and exploits his every misstep. Eventually, Cal's frustration turns to thoughts of mayhem, as he imagines ending his torment by dispatching his brother without leaving a trace. In Cal's telling, Frank is the embodiment of pure evil, while Cal has at least enough insight to describe some of his own moral failings with a minimum of self-justification. All of this offers a promising setup that turns out to be stronger than its execution, as the novel takes too long to reach its inevitable climax. Theroux is an acclaimed travel writer, and he brings those skills to bear in intermittent scenes vividly describing Cal's gem-hunting work in places like Colombia and Zambia and some interesting aspects of the rare gem business. Inside this slow-paced novel there is a much more energetic one trying to emerge. A psychological thriller whose payoff doesn't deliver on a protracted buildup. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.